Balikpapan-class landing craft heavy

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HMAS Balikpapan in 2011
HMAS Balikpapan in 2011
Class overview
Builders: Walkers Limited at Maryborough, Queensland
Operators: Royal Australian Navy
Papua New Guinea Defence Force
Preceded by: LSM-1 class landing ship medium
Built: 1971–1974
In service: 1971–present
In commission: 1973–present
Completed: 8
Active: 2 PNGDF
Retired: 6
General characteristics
Type: Landing Craft Heavy
Displacement: 364 tons standard
517 tons full load
Length: 44.5 m (146 ft)
Beam: 10.1 m (33 ft)
Draught: 2 m (6 ft 7 in)
Propulsion: 2 × General Motors Detroit 6–71 diesel motors (original)
2 × Caterpillar 3406E diesel engines (RAN since 2005)
Speed: 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Range: 3,000 nautical miles (5,600 km; 3,500 mi) unladen
1,300 nautical miles (2,400 km; 1,500 mi) with 175 tons of cargo
Capacity: 180 tons of cargo
Complement: 16
Sensors and
processing systems:
Racal Decca Bridgemaster I-band navigational radar
Armament: two 7.62 mm (0.300 in) machine guns

The Balikpapan class LCH (Landing Craft, Heavy) are a class of eight vessels operated by the Australian Defence Force and the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF). They were initially built for the Australian Army, but operational responsibility was transferred from the Army to the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) during 1973 and 1974. Two vessels were transferred to Papua New Guinea after the nation's independence.

During their careers, the Australian vessels have operated in support of Operation Navy Help Darwin in 1974–75, Operation Bel Isi from 1997 to 2003, INTERFET operations in 1999 and 2000, and RAMSI operations from 2003.

Three of the RAN vessels were paid off in 2012, and the remaining three were decommissioned in November 2014. As of 2011, the two PNGDF ships were non-operational, but awaiting refits to restore them to service.

Design and capabilities[edit]

Eight new heavy landing craft were ordered in 1969 as a locally-manufactured replacement for the Australian Army's four LSM-1 class landing ship medium and two ALC 50 landing craft after the Landing Ship Medium Mk II project was cancelled.[1] They are 44.5 metres (146 ft) long, with a beam of 10.1 metres (33 ft), and a draught of 2 metres (6 ft 7 in).[2] The landing craft have a standard displacement of 320 tons, with a full load displacement of 517 tons.[2] They were originally built with two General Motors Detroit 6–71 diesel motors.[3] These were replaced by Caterpillar 3406E diesel engines between 2005 and 2007 for those still in Australian service.[2] The standard ship's company is 16-strong, including two officers.[2] The sensor suite is limited to a Racel Decca Bridgemaster I-band navigational radar.[2] They are fitted with two 7.62-millimetre (0.300 in) machine guns for self-defence.[3]

HMAS Balikpapan offloading the vehicles of US Navy Beachmaster Unit One during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2007

The LCHs have a maximum payload of 180 tons; equivalent to three Leopard 1 or two M1A1 Abrams tanks, 13 M113 armored personnel carriers, 23 quarter-tonne trucks, or four LARC-V amphibious cargo vehicles.[3][4][5] As a troop transport, a Balikpapan class vessel can transport up to 400 soldiers between a larger amphibious ship and the shore, or embark 60 soldiers in six-berth caravans for longer voyages.[4][6] The vessel's payload affects the range: at 175 tons of cargo, each vessel has a range of 1,300 nautical miles (2,400 km; 1,500 mi), which increases to 2,280 nautical miles (4,220 km; 2,620 mi) with a 150-ton payload, and 3,000 nautical miles (5,600 km; 3,500 mi) when unladen.[3] The flat, box-like keel causes the ships to roll considerably in other-than-calm conditions, limiting their ability to make long voyages.[4] The LCHs can mate their bow ramp to the stern loading dock of the RAN's large amphibious warfare ships when operating in the ship-to-shore role.[6]

All eight Balikpapan class vessels were constructed by Walkers Limited at their shipyard in Maryborough, Queensland.[7] All were laid down during 1971 and 1972, with lead ship Balikpapan entering service with the Australian Army Water Transport Squadron at the end of 1971.[7] After this, responsibility for seagoing Army craft was transferred to the RAN, with the other seven craft directly entering naval service during 1973 and 1974, and Balikpapan transferring over in late 1974.[7][8]

Operational history[edit]

Balikpapan (left), Wewak, and a United States Navy Landing Craft Utility underway during Pacific Partnership 2011

In January 1973, the Balikpapans in RAN service were formed together as the First Australian Landing Craft Squadron, based at HMAS Moreton in Brisbane.[4] In November 1974, Salamaua and Buna were transferred to the fledgling Papua New Guinea Defence Force, along with five Attack class patrol boats.[4][9] Five of the remaining Australian LCHs were deployed in December 1974 following Cyclone Tracy as part of Operation Navy Help Darwin; HMAS Labuan was undergoing refits at the time.[10]

HMAS Labuan was assigned to the Royal Australian Navy Reserve in June 1979, and attached to the Brisbane Port Division.[4] Three LCHs, Tarakan, Balikpapan, and Wewak were placed in reserve at NQEA in Cairns during August and September 1985.[4] They were reactivated in 1988, 1990, and 2000, respectively.[3] On entering service, Brunei and Betano initially supplemented the inshore hydrographic survey capabilities of the RAN until late 1988, when they were reassigned to the naval base HMAS Waterhen for use in diver training.[3] During May and June 1984, Balikpapan completed a 5,400-nautical-mile (10,000 km; 6,200 mi) transit from Brisbane to Penang, transporting vehicles, equipment, and personnel to RAAF Butterworth; the longest ocean voyage undertaken by a vessel of this class.[10] During 1985 and 1986, Salamaua and Buna underwent refits.[11]

Between 1997 and 2003, the LCHs were used to support the Peace Monitoring Group (PMG) in Bougainville, under Operation Bel Isi.[12] Ships deployed on this operation were involved in resupplying the PMG base in Loloho, transport of PMG personnel and humanitarian aid, and coastal patrols.[12] From 1999 onwards, the Balikpapans were also tasked with supporting INTERFET operations in East Timor, particularly those relating to the Oecussi enclave.[12] The increase in operational tempo was a major factor in the reactivation of Wewak in 2000.[12] In 2003, the landing craft began supporting RAMSI operations in the Solomon Islands.[12]

The two PNG vessels have been listed in Jane's Fighting Ships as non-operational since 2011, although they are awaiting refits to restore them to service.[13] Labuan and Tarakan delivered humanitarian supplies to remote coastal settlements in the Solomon Islands in September 2014 as part of Australian support efforts in the region.[14]

Decommissioning and fates[edit]

On 11 December 2012, Wewak was decommissioned.[15] Balikpapan and Betano were both decommissioned a day later, on 12 December.[16][17][18] The other three Australian vessels were decommissioned on 20 November 2014, with the entire class to be replaced by an as-yet-unidentified class of six heavy landing craft.[15][19][20][21] Labuan will be transferred to the PNGDF.[21] The original replacement project was not due to decide on the design until between 2016 and 2018, with the new class to enter service from 2022.[5] The Department of Defence issued a request for information in early 2011, which may lead to the project being brought forward.[5]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Gillett, Australian and New Zealand Warships since 1946, pgs 79, 125
  2. ^ a b c d e Saunders (ed.), IHS Jane's Fighting Ships 2012–2013, p. 32
  3. ^ a b c d e f Wertheim (ed.), The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World, p. 26
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Gillett, Australian and New Zealand Warships since 1946, p. 79
  5. ^ a b c Gillett, Australia's Navy, Part 2, p. 30
  6. ^ a b "Balikpapan Class Heavy Landing Craft (LCH), Australia". Naval Technology. 2014. Retrieved 27 September 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c Wertheim (ed.), The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World, p. 25
  8. ^ Gillett, Australian and New Zealand Warships since 1946, p. 80
  9. ^ Frame, No Pleasure Cruise, p. 261
  10. ^ a b Swinden, Heavy Lifting for Four Decades, p. 22
  11. ^ Wertheim (ed.), The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World, p. 536
  12. ^ a b c d e Swinden, Heavy Lifting for Four Decades, p. 23
  13. ^ Saunders (ed.), IHS Jane's Fighting Ships 2012–2013, p. 602
  14. ^ "Australian Navy Delivers Supplies to Solomon Islands". Naval Today. 18 September 2014. Retrieved 27 September 2014. 
  15. ^ a b "HMAS Wewak decommissioned". Department of Defence. 11 December 2012. Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  16. ^ "HMA Ships Balikpapan and Betano decommissioned". Royal Australian Navy. 13 December 2012. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  17. ^ "HMAS Balikpapan". Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  18. ^ "HMAS Betano". Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  19. ^ Berry, Paul (6 December 2012). "End of the line". Navy News (Directorate of Defence News). p. 4. 
  20. ^ Rahmat, Ridzwan (23 July 2014). "RAN to decommission three Balikpapan-class LCHs". IHS Jane's Navy International. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  21. ^ a b Staples, Natalie (20 November 2014). "Final farewell for landing craft". Navy Daily. Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 20 November 2014. 

References[edit]

Books
Journal articles
  • Swinden, Greg (April 2013). "Heavy Lifting for Four Decades: The Navy's Landing Craft Heavy". The Navy (Navy League of Australia) 75 (2): 20–24. ISSN 1322-6231. 

External links[edit]